Sunday, December 17, 2006

“Lenin” on prostitution and capitalism: What isn’t to be done

I am in an arsey mood today. My narkyness worsened when I read the Young Pretender aka ‘ickle Lenins’ post on the events in Ipswich.

This is stroppyblog so here’s one major strop. Why is it when it comes to discussing the finer points of Leninism they flex their so-called intellectual fucking muscle? Well, even then, pontificating about big ideas in your cozy socialist armchair leads to a big fat zero as it rarely relates to the real world.

But when it comes to showing some real thinking and understanding around oppression of women, many on the left stumble and stumble badly.

What’s my beef with the ‘ickle one? The post attempts to explain the events around Ipswich with a general interpretation of women’s oppression. It is an ill thought out mish mash of ideas and it fudges the issues.

The post looks at how sex is commodified under capitalism and how this relates to prostitution. And that prostitution is an extension of labour exploitation. So far so ok…ish. Then ‘ickle Lenin jumps straight into examining the role of the family and the position of women within the family. There is no mention of the dreaded “P” word. P = patriarchy.

“The family unit has been the chief way in which the reproduction of labour has been guaranteed under industrial capitalism”

Yeah, but Lenin lets expand on that a bit. Hey, let your hand wander along your book shelf until I say stop. Yeah, yeah, warm, getting warmer, boiling hot. Whoa there, pull off that copy of The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State by Engels and have a butchers. I would also recommend Evelyn Reed’s Woman’s Evolution as well (you can borrow my copy if you don’t have it).

As Engels pointed out, with the rise of private property, monogamous marriage and the patriarchal family, new social forces came into play in both society at large and in the family setup which destroyed the rights exercised by earliest womankind. From simple cohabitation of pairing couples there arose the rigidly freed, legal system of monogamous marriage. This brought the wife and children under the complete control of the husband and father who gave the family his name and determined their conditions of life and destiny.”

But Len, you can’t explain women’s oppression by capitalism alone. There is a dialectical (Oh sacre bleu! I have mentioned the dastardly “d” word..) relationship between patriarchy and capitalism. Unfortunately, Lenin reduces his arguments to workerism.

“The woman’s subordinate role in the household and in society has ensured that the exploited male worker can go home from an exhausting, brain numbing day, and have time to recuperate in a small, controlled environment in which in can consider himself to be the boss”.

But why is that the case? Capitalism feeds off patriarchal norms and that includes the family unit. What is also left out of Lenin’s analysis is the “F” word. The important role feminism has played in highlighting oppression and demands the women's liberation movement made. And the wealth of feminist literature that is available deserves a read (you should see my book shelves, Len).

'Ickle Lenin ends by stating: “The oppression of women, as I have tried to indicate, illuminates and intersects with every other axis of oppression and exploitation in society”.

True, but …

We are saturated with sexual imagery and sexualisation overall but just to reduce it to workerism and economism fails to understand the contradictions, and complexities of patriarchal capitalism. Patriarchy is the power relationships that exist in this society between men and women. These relationships are alienated as the result of both commodification and the alienating effects of the patriarchial nature of the relationship between men and women.

I support decriminalising prostitution and unionisation of sex workers as it is about showing solidarity at the end of the day. But Lenins' collection of demands include, “outlaw of Page 3”. Why? Will censoring Page 3 "protect" women? Will it make women less of a sex object? No. Women are objectified under patriarchal capitalism but will censorship improve the position of women? No. What is the position of women in countries where pornography is banned?

Do we just join the revolutionary party and fight for the Glorious Day? Or do we build a vibrant dynamic socialist feminist movement? Do we struggle against oppression in all its forms or do we prioritise some forms of oppression over others…with surprise surprise the oppression of women at the bottom?

I am a socialist feminist, 'ickle Lenin. Go figure.